Monday, August 14, 2017

Lehua rat removal: risk minimal, benefits huge.

Wedgetailed Shearwater chick early August.
There are times when doing nothing is the worst alternative.

We have the opportunity, the technology and the funding to remove aggressive, invasive, non-native rats from the Lehua island bird reserve. We should do it.

What a tragedy for ourselves and our descendants—not to mention the native wildlife, if we did nothing.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing addressing the issue this summer, when rat populations are seasonally low and rat food supplies are low—so they are more susceptible to attractant bait.

(Images: A wedgetailed shearwater chick on Lehua in early August. The same chick, dead and partly eaten, presumably by rats. Credit: Island Conservation.)

The agency proposes using techniques that have been deployed successfully on hundreds of oceanic islands around the world, including several in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is the aerial application of rat bait containing the anticoagulant diphacinone

And while there are risks, those risks seem minimal. There have not been problems with injury to other species when rats were removed from Mokoli`i off O`ahu, from Mokapu off Molokai, from Kure Atoll’s Green Island or from Midway Atoll.

Lehua, a volcanic tuff cone islet north of Ni`ihau, is a bird refuge, but one severely compromised by Pacific rats, which have been there for decades. A dense environmental assessment for the Lehua  rat removal project is available here.

Same chick, killed and partly eaten by rats.
There have been angry arguments against the project, which minimize the actual damage done by rats, and seem strongly driven by the anti-pesticide movement. Take a look here.

Some Kaua`i residents at recent public meetings have expressed concern over the use of rat bait near the coastline. It is a valid concern, but there is ample evidence from previous eradication programs that the bait breaks up in minutes in the water, and sampling has shown no active chemical remnant in the water just days after the application.

There is no evidence of fish kills or detectable toxicity at previous rat eradication efforts on small islets around Hawai`i.

Tests at Palmyra Atoll, which has a robust coral reef system, showed no impact on corals from a much more dense application of rat pellets than proposed for Lehua. A small number of shorebirds could be impacted, but that has not been the case in previous Hawai`i eradications.

So there is a small relative risk. What’s the benefit?

Here is a paper from 2014 on the impact of rats on small tropical islands around the world. 

Rats are a problem everywhere they exist. On Lehua, swarms of rats eat seabird eggs. They kill chicks. And they attack nesting adults. By limiting seabird populations, they reduce the size of oceanic bird flocks that trollers use to identify schools of fish. They even go down to the nearshore rocks and prey on crabs and `opihi.

Rats also feed on native trees and their seeds, and are partly responsible for the loss of Lehua’s native dryland forest. That lack of vegetation promotes sediment runoff from the island into nearshore waters. And they eat the insects on the island, including native insects.

And there is a long-term positive impact not only to the environment of Lehua itself, but addressing the larger global issues facing nesting seabird species.

One of the great benefits of promoting Lehua’s safety for nesting seabirds is that it is a high island, and in an era of climate change and sea level rise, it will provide nesting habitat when the low bird islands of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are drowned.

This seems to be a well-thought-out project using a mature technology, with minimal risk, and one that addresses a real environmental threat.

It is reasonable to be concerned about risks, but it is not reasonable to refuse to act when the benefits far outweigh any theoretical risks.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Duck and cover. Climate catastrophe now probably inevitable

The climate chickens are coming home to roost, and the news for farmers, coastal cities, wildlife, people who don’t live in high-elevation bunkers and humans who drink water—they are now likely to be disastrous.

And that’s the best case scenario, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

The scary thing about changing climate is how intertwined it is with everything in our lives. As the Hawai`i Climate Adaptation logo suggest, Pili na mea a pau: All things are related.

The only way to avoid it being even worse is with herculean effort. Far more effort than is now being engaged. And nobody’s likely to be putting out that kind of effort—especially not our country, which just walked away from the Paris climate accords.

The latest predictions of climate warming suggest that by the end of this century, there’s a 90 percent chance the earth will be significantly hotter than the disastrous 2 degree rise that folks have been predicting.

There’s a small chance that it will stay as low as 2-degree rise, and a small chance of as much as a 5-degree rise. The median rise is now estimated to be 3.2 degrees, according to authors of a new paper in Nature Climate Change.

We are already so far down the climate change turnpike that even really strong measures would only keep the warming to 2 degrees, said the paper’s lead author, Adrian Raftery, a University of Washington statistician.

"Our analysis shows that the goal of 2 degrees is very much a best-case scenario. It is achievable, but only with major, sustained effort on all fronts over the next 80 years," he said in a Eurekalert article.

Scientists have long known it could be that bad, but the International Panel on Climate Change and others have downplayed the worst case scenarios, in part because they are so horrific as to be easily rejected. Imagine cities under water. Farmlands poisoned by saltwater intrusion. Coastal resorts washed away. Flooding in dry areas and drought in our breadbaskets. Storms. Massive wildlife losses.

“Damages from heat extremes, drought, extreme weather and sea level rise will be much more severe if 2 degrees C or higher temperature rise is allowed. Our results show that an abrupt change of course is needed to achieve these goals." said one of the paper’s co-authors, Dargan Frierson, a University of Washington associate professor of atmospheric sciences.

The study was a detailed review of climate data, country by country.

"This is a high-tech statistical model that looks at what has happened to per-capita output in each country, to carbon intensity in each country, and to population in each country. What we find is that there is a wide range of what could happen, but unfortunately the bottom end of the range is still fairly bad, and the top end of the range is catastrophic," said another of the paper’s co-authors, University of California at Santa Barbara economist Dick Startz.

"Our predictions assume that carbon intensity is going to continue to trend downward, as it has been. That still leaves us in a mess. The only thing that is going to get us out of it is finding a way to make carbon intensity fall much more quickly than it has been," Startz said.

He said it is difficult but possible to envision a global initiative that could keep the temperature rise within some limits, using major advances in energy technology, but he’s not hopeful. Carbon intensity as been declining, but not nearly fast enough to make a significant impact.

"We can hope for some magic breakthrough or we can do the unpleasant task of charging more when we're polluting. But even that might not be enough," Startz said.

California already has a sense of how bad it could be in terms of sea level rise, as the state earlier this year released a major report on the subject. It’s available here.

California, as Hawai`i is, is already seeing some of the early effects, the report said: 

“Coastal California is already experiencing the early impacts of a rising sea level, including more extensive coastal flooding during storms, periodic tidal flooding, and increased coastal erosion.”

Much of the sea level change in recent decades has been from thermal expansion of ocean water, glacier melting and ice cap melting. But the planet is moving into a new phase in which there is melting of the massive ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica.

California’s take on the most likely sea level rise by 2100 without significant mitigation? That would be 1.6 to 3.4 feet.

Worst case? Ten feet.

Hawai`i's efforts to understand the local impacts of climate and related changes are being overseen by the state's Interagency Climate Adaptation Committee, which has a website here

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Right now: Six tropical storm systems spinning in the Pacific at once.

This is just remarkable: six rotating tropical systems in the North Pacific at once.

The accompanying image is from, on July 22, 2017, with titles added.

From left, Tropical Storms Noru and Kulap in the Western Pacific, and then, east of Hawai`i, Tropical Storm Fernanda, Tropical Storm Greg, Tropical Depression 10-E and Tropical Depression 9-E.

We won't add comment, other than to say that these are interesting times. Several of these systems have been, or are likely to be, hurricanes.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Landscape-scale conservation can work: Maui's Auwahi is the proof

Auwahi at `Ulupalakua Ranch. Image courtesy Art Medeiros.
When Art Medeiros fenced some Maui pasture that had a smattering of native dryland forest plants on it, most folks figured he was engaged in a pipe dream.

He hoped that by excluding deer and cattle, and with a little loving care and some outplanting, something approaching a healthy native dryland forest could result.

Medeiros was right. The image above is the proof. The three dark green patches are areas fenced to keep grazing animals out and then planted with dryland natives. The 10-acre center square was fenced and planted 20 years ago, the bottom 23 acres 12 years ago, and the 23-acre shape at the right 8 years ago.

Medeiros worked with the landowners, `Ulupalakua Ranch’s Erdman family, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to form the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project. You can learn more about it at this website

What they found is that landscape-scale conservation efforts work.

It is a remarkable example, but certainly not the only example in Hawaii.

● When the Territory of Hawai`i removed feral cattle from the Koke`e grasslands on Kaua`i, those rolling acres of pasture were able to convert back to forest that is now Koke`e State Park.

● When George Munro on Lana`i fenced hundreds of acres at Kanepu`u a century ago to keep out deer and mouflon sheep, he protected a native forest that survives today. 

● When Lida and David Burney took the analysis of ancient pollen samples at Makawehi on Kaua`i  and planted those plants into a nearby former cane field, they restored something long gone from that landscape. 

Medeiros a few decades ago saw a few botanical gems in a severely degraded landscape. When he proposed trying to restore it, he got a lot of pushback. It was a dead forest standing, he was told; Degraded landscapes were inevitably going to further decline.

He didn’t give up.

“The question was whether we could rebuild this system, or was this (an example of) the end of all natural systems?”

At Auwahi, there were priceless old endemic trees, but they were not reproducing and had not reproduced for decades. The native species covered only 3 percent of the landscape.

Why care? Native dryland forest is some of the rarest treasure in the Hawaiian realm. It has been displaced by development, agriculture, pasture and constant pressure from non-native predators on the natural landscape, like cattle, deer, goats, sheep, pigs and rats.

Medeiros and his team fenced out the cattle and deer at Auwahi, starting with the 10-acre square they now call A-1. With the help of teams of community volunteers, teachers, canoe clubs and many others, they began planting out native species—more than 125,000 seedlings to date.
The result: Native species cover in some areas is now 82 percent.

“Near two-thirds of native tree species at Auwahi are now producing seedlings naturally, a sign of a healthy functioning ecosystem, including some species that had not done so in centuries,” Medeiros said.

And on a dry slope of Haleakala, where much of the landscape is brown and yellow, here it is deep green. Not only an indication that the plants are back, but that the landscape is functioning as a watershed.

Medeiros gives special credit to the landowners, Pardee and Sumner Erdman and their family, for their dedication to conservation, and their willingness to convert pasture to native forest—without compensation.

“`Ulupalakua Ranch has...served largely as a silent and enthusiastic partner. In all my years in conservation, I have never seen another for-profit group act in this way,” he said.

Donors to the project over the years included the Frost Family Foundation, Maui County Department of Water Supply, Hawai`i Community Foundation, Hawai`i Tourism Authority, Maui County Office of Economic Development and the Edward J Anderson Foundation.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Backpacks and store-bought kits aren't enough: Your family needs a personalized emergency kit

We’re in the start of the 2017 hurricane season, but it’s short-sighted to focus too tightly on rotating storms. Wildfires, tsunami, enemy action, labor strikes and lots more can disrupt our community resupply systems.

The state’s emergency management officials are now recommending Hawai`i families have enough supplies on hand to care for themselves for two weeks.

There's a reason for that. If supply chains are down, neither your local supermarket nor the military, much less other government agencies, will have the stuff you need. And none of them will have some of the specific needs of your own family.

In a serious disaster like a big tsunami or strong hurricane, it will take days or weeks to get supply chains up and operating, to get roads open, airports and harbors working, communications functioning, power and water systems operational. 

A resilient community is one that can meet its own needs whole all that happens.

Whether you have a specific emergency kit in a box or bag, or if you just make sure you have enough stuff at home to meet your family needs—it makes a lot of sense to go through the planning.

Available aircraft can not supply the food, medicine and other needs of a 1.4 million population. Ocean shipping needs to be restored, and in bad situations, that could take a few weeks. Our state only has a few days of goods on hand at any given time. And anyone who has gone in after a disaster warning knows that batteries, toilet paper, bottled water and other items disappear fast.

So, what’s in a 14-day emergency kit? Think about what you’d need if you were going camping for a couple of weeks. You need to eat and drink, take medication, have light and so on.

An overview of emergency needs is at the state emergency management site. You can also look in the front pages of most phone books for disaster kit contents. 

You can buy kits online and at stores, but they won’t have everything a proper kit needs—and certainly won’t have your personalized medical, dietary and informational needs. Don’t just buy a kit, store it and think you’re done.

WATER: You need a lot of water. At a gallon per person per day, a three-member family needs 42 gallons. That’s nine five-gallon buckets. A bathtub can hold twice that much, and you can purchase water bladders that can keep that water safe.

DRINKS: Even if you can’t heat water, you can make coffee and tea—it just takes longer without heat. (Think about sun tea and cold-brewed coffee.) Your kit needs coffee, tea bags, sugar and creamer if you use them. (The electric grinder won’t be working but you can crush coffee beans in other ways, or store ground coffee.)

FOOD: Again, a lot of it. You ought to prepare for at least one full meal per day, plus light fare. Keep in mind that rice and pasta needs to be cooked and cooking could be a problem. This Homeland Security site has these recommendations. 

Think about canned meats, fruits, vegetables, juices, freeze dried foods and instant meals. Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, granola bars and trail mix. Hard candies, cookies, candy bars. Trail mix and pre-made snack foods. And comfort foods, such as hard candy, sweetened cereals, candy bars and cookies.

SPECIAL FOODS: Consider the needs of infants, elderly persons and those on special diets. And pet food sufficient to keep the family pusses and pooches satisfied.

MANUAL CAN OPENER: No point in having all those cans if you can’t open them, and you don’t want to create a medical risk by stabbing them with a knife.

MEDICAL: You need not only a two-week supply of the family’s medications, but a paper copy of the prescriptions. Your own pharmacy might not be open after an emergency, and others won’t have your data.

You’ll also want a first-aid kit. And water purification system, whether chlorine liquid or iodine pills. Look up and make a paper note of how to use them (you might not be able to Google it after the disaster).

PAPER GOODS: Lots of toilet paper and paper towels, but also copies of your family’s important papers: identification, medical issues, contact information for family members who are aware, and so forth. Note pads and pencils or pens. Also sanitary wipes and sanitary napkins.

BATTERY OPERATED RADIO: For keeping up on disaster response. 

And FLASHLIGHTS. With extra batteries suitable for all the electronics. 

If power lines are down but CELL TOWERS are still working, you can charge your phone from the car—but be aware that gas stations need electricity for pumps, and you may not be able to refuel.

MISCELLANEOUS: You’ll want matches and small lighters. Candles. Fuel if you have a use for it—whether liquid stove fuel or briquets for a hibachi.  Soap. Spare glasses. Needle and thread. A deck of cards. Books you always meant to read. Duct tape. And heavy-duty PLASTIC BAGS for storing waste.

A multi-function tool is good for an emergency, but isn’t as good as the actual tool. Not as good as real pliers, a real pocket knife, a real screwdriver, and so forth. That said, I have several, because they’re what you need in a pinch.

The fully-loaded emergency kit is a whole lot of stuff, but aside from the water, campers regularly go off for a couple of weeks with the food and gear they need in a single backback, so it needn’t require a massive storage area..

And speaking of backpacks, it’s also a good idea to have a couple of large-capacity backpacks—for if you need to haul goods from a supply point if your car’s out of gas or the roads are closed.

Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on what foods might be safe to eat, and how to keep others safe in an emergency. 

Here’s some information from the EPA on how to purify water with chlorine bleach. 

It only takes two drops to a quart of water and six or eight drops to a gallon. And it’s a good idea to wash out your containers with a chlorinated water solution before storing your water.

If your water isn’t clear, then let it settle, and filter it through paper or fabric filters until it is clear before chlorinating.

Beyond the emergency kit, there's the emergency network. Do you know who you can depend on in an emergency. Have you made contact with those folks? Do you or a family member have special needs. Here's some information on that

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017